15 Things You Must Know Before a Disney Cruise

Disney Cruise Line can be the most amazing vacation experience….and may ruin your future vacations in a good way! But, if you are a first time cruiser, planning a cruise can be overwhelming ~ especially if you like to plan a Disney Parks vacation.  It’s all very different, and more relaxing in my opinion, to plan a Disney Cruise.  On Disney Cruise Line, your family is in for a magical voyage at sea on one of the most family friendly cruise lines!  A Disney Cruise can be the best family vacation ever.  No phones or internet to distract you, all inclusive cruising, no boredom, and no worries on what you are having for dinner because it’ll be ready for you!  Planning a cruise is much different than planning your time in the Disney Parks.  There isn’t nearly the planning that goes into it, but at the same time you want to be prepared!  Today I am going to share with you some Disney Cruise Line Tips for a Magical Voyage!

15 Disney Cruise Line Tips

Making the most of your Disney Cruise is essential to having a great voyage.  You have saved and planned, and not it’s time to board that fantastic Disney Cruise ship for a magical voyage! Disney Cruise Line has been consistently voted as the best cruise line several years in a row-and from personal experience, I can see why! Once your cruise is booked, you’ll want to gather as much advice and tips as possible to make the most out of your time at sea.  Do you want make the most of your Disney Cruise?  Of course you do!   Today, I am going to share some Tips for Making the Most of your Disney Cruise.

Disney Cruise Line has two dining rotations ~ Main Seating and Second Seating.  Often, on popular sailings, or those that are close to sail date, the only option for dining may be second seating.  This isn’t always a bad thing, but can be stressful when you are traveling with family who like to eat at 6PM sharp. But, if you are assigned second seating, don’t stress. It is possible that you can change to Main Dining.  This means you will eat before you see the show for the evening. When you have late dining, you get to see the live show before you eat.  Also, for second seating guests, the CastMembers from the kids clubs will come and take the children from the table, if they are finished, to go and play while you finish eating.  The earlier time, while much easier on the schedule, can be louder and more crowded.  So if you want a slightly calmer experience, the late seating may be the better option.  If you want to change your time, visit Guest Services when you board.  They may be able to switch your dining time for you.

Disney Cruise Line operates on Rotational Dining.  This means that instead of dining in the main dining room every night, you get to eat someplace different!  Disney Cruise Line is the only line that does rotational dining.  Throughout your cruise, you rotate amongst three restaurants, staying with the same server and dining party the whole time.  The change of scenery for meals can be an awesome addition to your trip!  How do you know where to eat?  It is listed on your Key to the World Card.  You may see a series of letters, “AREA.”  That means Night 1 you are at Animator’s Palate, Night 2 at Royal Court, Night 3 at Enchanted Garden, and Night 4 at Animator’s Palate again.  On your disembark day, you have breakfast in the same location you had dinner the previous night.  Super easy!

Not planning ahead won’t ruin your sailing.  Guests can start booking excursions and onboard activities 120 days before sail date, and then it trickles down from there depending on your Castaway Club status. Many guests like to book their excursions and onboard activities when their booking window opens.  Some port adventures and onboard activities fill up, some don’t.  But, if you are unsure what you want to do, you can visit Guest Services on the ship and see if there spots available on the port adventures or at any onboard activities that day.  Another option is to enjoy the ship while everyone else is off the boat participating in an port adventure.  This is a GREAT time to do the water slides, and other onboard activities with less crowds. There is always plenty to do on a Disney Cruise.

Leave room in your budget for gratuities.  Gratuities are “tips”, given to your stateroom host, head server, lead server and assistant server.   You can pay these ahead of time, or when you disembark the ship.  Either way, it is the same amount of money, and they are not worked into your cruise fare.  A family of 4 can expect to pay $192 in gratuities for a 4-night cruise on Disney Cruise Line.  That is the grand total, not per person.  This gets split amongst four Crew Members who do everything they can to make sure your voyage is amazing.  From past experience, I wanted to tip them more!  If you do not pay them in advance, they will get added to your onboard account and you will pay them before you disembark.

Before you sail, you can prepay your gratuities for your stateroom host, and the 3 servers you will have at dinner.  This is based on the number of passengers in your room, as well as the length of your sailing.  These are industry standard, and adding them ahead of time is a convenience.  If you choose not to do so, your onboard account will be charged for them before you disembark. However, it is a good rule of thumb to pack some $1 bills to have on hand for tipping your Room Service Crew Member and the porters.  We typically tip them $1 per item they bring to our room for Room Service, and $1 per bag if they are handling our luggage.

Be prepared for themed nights on your sailing. All Disney Cruise Line sailings have a theme night of some sort.  Pirate Night, Star Wars Day at Sea, Marvel Day at Sea, FROZEN Deck Parties, Halloween on the High Seas…the list goes on! Calling Disney Cruise Line before you sail can be very helpful in this regard.  They can tell you which night is a theme during your trip, so you can be prepared.  You may want to pack some themed clothing, or a Halloween costume, etc.   You can even book Pirate Makeovers for Pirate Night of you want!  It’s good to take a few minutes to call the cruise line to get helpful information so you can be ready for the fun!

Disney characters abound on Disney Cruise Line.  In our experience, it is possible to see quite a few Disney characters on Disney Cruise Line. In fact, this is a great time to see characters in many of their fun costumes.   On Pirate Night, everyone is in their pirate gear, including Mickey and Minnie!  Princesses can be found for many meet and greets….or even just wandering the halls on Disney Cruise ships.  Be sure to have your autograph book and camera handy so you can get some fun autographs and photos! We have also seen characters such as the White Rabbit or Pinocchio onboard, but never in the parks! Some sailings may even have a character dining option! On the Disney Dream, you can enjoy the Royal Court Royal Tea Party with your favorite princesses, or on the Disney Fantasy there is a Disney, Jr. character breakfast. The characters don’t just meet and greet.  Sometimes they join guests in the atrium for a dance party, too! Be sure you have your autograph books handy!


Disney Cruise Line

Do not miss the live shows each evening.  These are included in your cruise fare, so be sure to see them!  Many families may not experience Broadway caliber shows, but on the Disney Cruise Line, there is no reason not to!  If you have the main seating time for dinner, you will see your show afterward.  If you have second seating, you see the show before dinner.  Be sure to get there a few minutes early to get a seat.  Should you miss the show, or want to watch it in your stateroom, you can do so.  They stream them on the TV in your cruise cabin.  This time is a great way to spend some family time together, if you have sort of gone your own ways during the day.

Beware of overpacking! It is so easy to overpack for a cruise. But, I have learned that I really don’t need that much, and I can easily double some basic pieces to make my wardrobe work onboard.  On your Disney Cruise, you will have a semi-formal, and if you are on a 7-night a formal night as well.  To avoid packing too much, I pack a simple black dress.  For dinner on semi-formal night, I add a colored cardigan.  For formal night, I wear the same cardigan, a statement necklace and bracelets, and the same shoes each night.  I do the same for our kids ~ the boys each take one polo shirt to wear to dinner and can get two nights out of that.  For our daytime, we are in our swimsuits most of the day. So I make sure we have two swimsuits per person, coverups, and then basics we can put together for when we are not at the pool.  Denim shorts, Disney t-shirts, etc make up the rest of our wardrobe.

Use some of your time to try new foods and new experiences.  For example, I would never order lobster at home if we were out to dinner!  But, it was an appetizer at one of our dinners, and I went for it.  Why?  Because I wanted to try something new, and I had already paid for it.  So why not?  My kids also tried new foods, and it was so fun to do so!  It’s also fun to try new experiences on your ship.  Drawing classes, towel origami classes, watching first run movies, mixology classes, and so much more!  There is SO much to do onboard, you may never get to do all of it!

Take advantage of the unique Disney experiences when you are at sea.  There is the Pirate Party, which is unique to Disney Cruise Line.  One night of your sailing, the menu will be pirate themed, everyone will be in pirate garb {including the characters}, and you’ll want to hang out on the pool deck for the pirate party and fireworks!  Another fun experience is the character meet and greets.  You do need to get a ticket for the Anna and Elsa Meet and Greet and the princess gathering.  In our experience, we were able to get a ticket for Anna and Elsa, but not the princesses.  In the end, it was fine.  We still saw all the princesses, some multiple times, at various occasions on board.  I do not feel like my daughter missed out on anything.  Castaway Cay is also unique to Disney Cruise Line.  Be sure to get off when you port at Castaway Cay and enjoy the island as long as possible!


Pack a carry on bag for your embark and disembark days. When you embark on a Disney Cruise Line ship, you do NOT have all your luggage with you.  It is given to the porters, and when your room is ready, they deliver it to you. In turn, you need to make sure you have a few thing handy until your room is ready.  Swimsuits, sunblock, medications, passports/IDs, as well as some dry snacks for the kids or small activities to keep them busy while you wait to board or while you are in transport to the cruise port or airport.  The same is true with disembark.  If you choose, you can put your luggage outside your door the night before you arrive back in port. From here, the crew members take it and sort it for you to pick up when you disembark. This way, you do not have to fuss with carrying it all around while you are going to breakfast and disembarking.  So be sure to leave some room in a carry on to add your toiletries and any last minute things you need in the morning. You can pack them in your checked baggage if you want, after you pick it up and before you go back to the airport.

Settling into your stateroom will make for a smoother sailing.  One of the first things we do is unpack when we arrive in our stateroom.  We have learned to always have an expired gift card handy, to slip in the light switch so the lights don’t go out on us! Also, unpacking gets us organized, and then we can stash our suitcases under the bed so they are out of the way. Also, this allows space for your stateroom  host to put down beds if necessary, and move freely around the room to clean as well. Your stateroom will have quite a few USB and electrical outlets.  It is also equipped with a small refrigerator and a hair dryer.  Also, while unpacking, I take any unused hangers from the closet and put them in a suitcase under our bed.  They clank together sometimes, and can be so annoying….especially when you are trying to sleep.

Learn to use the Personal Navigator.  Your Navigator is given to you upon check in at the port.  It is also now on your Disney Cruise Line App, which is tremendously helpful.This lists all the activities, the nightly shows, the drink of the day, as well as character meet and greets.  There is SO much in the Navigator!  Be sure to keep it handy so you can sort of plan your day and not miss any activities you really want to enjoy.  It is also a great way to let everyone in your family enjoy something different.  So while you are meeting characters with your little one, the older two can be in the D Lounge enjoying the animation class.

Proper documentation is key. When you arrive at the cruise terminal, you need to go to the check in desk.  This is where they are going to ask you for your identification before you board.  Adults need one of two things.  They either need a passport, OR two forms of ID ~your state issued ID and your birth certificate.  Children can board with just one form, their birth certificate. Be aware, passports are highly advantageous to a cruise. Even if you are “just” going to the Bahamas, without a passport, you are not getting back via air quickly in a state of emergency.  Passports can be costly, but better safe than sorry. If possible, get passport books, not cards, for everyone in your family before you sail. For international sailings, you obviously need a passport, as well as for cruises that do not travel roundtrip to and from the same cruise port. These are called “repositioning” sailings, and they require a passport.

Take as many photos as possible. When you are in a port, take a few minutes to step off the ship and just walk around.  These can give you amazing photo opportunities, and it is fun to see the ships lined up in port.  Also, this is a special family vacation ~ and may be the only time during the year that your family gets dressed up for dinner, or the only time you can get together for a family getaway.  There are so many opportunities for amazing photos both onboard and in the ports, so be sure to take advantage of it and take a lot of photos.  There are even photographers onboard, and you can purchase your photos before you disembark…or choose 10 to take home on a USB and download when you get home.

I could spend all day telling you all the Disney Cruise Line tips and tricks we have learned over the years! What tips do you have for me?  I’d love to hear them!


  1. I wish I would have taken more pictures on our cruise! I was just too busy enjoying it all! We are FINALLY planning our next Disney Cruise for next spring! I can’t wait!

  2. If this doesn’t make me want to go on a cruise I am not sure what will!

  3. This is such a thorough guide, definitely saving this for the day we finally take a cruise!

    1. Your tips are split amongst several Crew Members. You can leave more if you want, per person, at the end. But it’s industry standard that you tip the minimum amount either before you sail or upon disembark.

  4. I LOVE vacationing on the Disney Cruise Line! These are spot on! Whether you have never been on a Disney Cruise or going on your hundredth these are great tips and reminders to know before you set sail!

    1. Thanks, Sarah! I am so glad you think these are helpful 🙂

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